Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a disease that causes chronic and severe inflammation inside the digestive tract. Over time, inflammation can result in the development of sores and even internal bleeding. The primary difference between Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis is that ulcerative colitis is restricted to the rectum and colon, or large intestine, while Crohn's disease can occur anywhere in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from the mouth to the anus.
While both irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and IBD can cause similar symptoms, IBD causes permanent damage to the bowel tissue while IBS does not. IBS can usually be managed successfully with medication, while IBD may in some cases require surgery to correct.
First, you'll have a physical exam and a discussion of your symptoms, as well as a review of your personal and family medical history to look for risk factors. If IBD is suspected, you'll have a colonoscopy or endoscopy or both to look inside your digestive tract for signs of inflammation and other potential causes of symptoms. Abnormal areas will be biopsied so the tissue can be examined more closely under a microscope. Blood work, stool samples and imaging tests like x-ray or MRI may also be ordered. Sometimes a barium x-ray is ordered. Barium x-rays require you to swallow a chalky liquid filled with barium that helps provide clearer images of your digestive tract during imaging. To visualize the lower portion of the digestive tract, barium may be administered via an enema.
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